200 Children Rescued From Gulu Pastors

Kampala, Uganda - THE POLICE on Friday stormed a new church for born-again Christians in Gulu district and rescued over 200 children who were under illegal custody.

The children have been reunited with their parents.

Three pastors of the church, Healing Outreach Ministries in Bungatira sub-county, Aswa county, were arrested in the raid that followed complaints by parents about their missing children.

"We mounted an operation and managed to rescue over 200 school-going age children who were under illegal custody," the Gulu Police community liaison officer, Johnson Kilama, said.

He identified the pastors as Lucy Anek Kigozi from Kampala, Alfred Kanyama, a teacher from Gulu, and Saverino Okello, a peasant in Gulu.

Kilama said they were shocked to find children from over 15 primary schools in Gulu and Amuru districts under the pastor's custody.

"The children claimed the Church invited them to register for scholarships," Kilama said.

Kanyama said the children started reporting to the Church on October 7. The children were being fed on boiled cassava, according to the resident district commissioner, Col. Walter Ochora.

"The church didn't have any means to give the children proper meals but decided to keep them there on boiled cassava," Ochora said. "The Police started searching for the children following a tip from Bungatira residents that a fake religious organisation was keeping children illegally."

Both Ochora and the Police said the Church duped the children that a Canadian donor would pay their school fees and provide them basic needs.

"The managers of the church claimed that they were looking after some children and had got a promise of funding from a Canadian religious organisation.

"So they rushed to the district and started inviting and keeping children whom they wanted to show to the Canadian when he comes to Uganda," Ochora said.

The actions of the church, Ochora said, were tantamount to abduction.

He noted the incident was one of the negative things coming up following the return of peace to the region. "Now that peace is returning to the district, all sorts of fake NGOs are coming here.

"We have passed a by-law requiring that all guests in the district should announce their presence to the office of the district internal security officer within 24 hours. "They have to state how long they will be in the district and the purpose of their visit," Ochora said. The Police spokesman, Asan Kasingye, yesterday said investigations into the incident were still going on and Pastor Anek Kigozi Anek had been released on bond.

Kigozi, the Church leader, claimed that Johan, a Canadian, had asked her to register orphans and widows who needed support.

"We are not a cult and we did not steal the children. The church invited the children who are orphans to come and be registered for the scholarships."

Last month, security agencies arrested 11 members of a cult, the Jerusalem Temple, which was preaching the end of the world. The Police warned the public against starting and joining cults and urged them to be vigilant and report such cases.